Strawberry Season: Shortcake

Strawberries have always been my favorite fruit. Maybe it’s because I was a strawberry blonde as a tot or because I have a strawberry birthmark on my shoulder that always made me feel like I’d be kissed by someone with strawberry-stained lips. Or maybe because my elementary school’s annual fundraiser was a strawberry festival, complete with the chance to win a 2 liter bottle of soda but, more importantly, to eat a piece of shortcake as big as your hand, covered in strawberries and a cloud of whipped cream.

Strawberries are also so precious because, like tomatoes, in-season and out-of-season makes them two entirely different experiences. That also means that I eat strawberries every day of May and June, before they disappear for another year. If I live to be 100, that’s only 100 strawberry seasons, which is seems like a tragedy.

Here’s how we’re eating strawberries today. This recipe is a riff on the Hard Cake recipe in Sarah E. Myers and Mary Beth Lind’s Recipes from the Old Mill: Baking with Whole Grains one of those cookbooks that I’ve used so much that it’s now held together with a rubber band.

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Strawberry Shortcake

  • 1 c. white flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. shortening (If this isn’t something you have on hand, you can use softened butter but will get a slightly different texture)
  • 1/2 c. + 2 Tbs. cold milk
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees; grease a pie pan.
  2. Mix dry ingredients.
  3. Cut in shortening.
  4. Add milk, stirring just until moistened.
  5. Pat into the pie pan. Try not to handle the dough too much.
  6. Bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on size of pie pan.

Serve topped with sliced strawberries and milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, or–my favorite–sour cream with a little sugar stirred in. Call it dessert, or if you want to lie to yourself, breakfast.

This is a good recipe to make with kids because they can practice measuring without having to use a million different measuring cups or spoons, and they get to use a pastry blender, if you have one, which is a skill that other recipes we use with kids, like cookies and cake, don’t typically require. And patting it into the pan is fun since you get to get your hands.

Remember: Strawberries should never be refrigerated, so eat them they day you buy them. This is why we say that prayer “Give us this day, Lord, our daily strawberries” this whole month.

 

 

 

Good Eggs: Egg Curry

Thanks to my friend Angela for suggesting that we try egg curry. Regular readers here know that eggs are a big part of our diet. They’re cheap and nutritious and good for guests on low carb or gluten free diets, and we almost always have them in the fridge. In honor of springtime, we will be sharing our favorite egg recipes all month in this little series we’re calling “Good Eggs.”

This egg curry came together pretty quick in my InstantPot. As always, our variation skips measuring most ingredients in favor of washing fewer dishes. Since we almost always have hard boiled eggs ready to go, this comes together with just four dirty dishes (a knife and cutting board to cut the onion, a wooden spoon to stir, the pot to cook it in, and the rice pot.)

egg curry

  • 12 hard boiled eggs
  • Ghee or oil
  • Turmeric and salt
  • Onion, thinly sliced
  • Garlic (powdered, fresh, or paste), Ginger (powdered, fresh, or paste), small amounts (1/4 tsp-1/2 tsp) of each cumin, more turmeric, coriander, chili powder, and salt. Alternatively, use your favorite curry powder or paste. OR use a can of diced tomatoes, garam masala, bay leaf, chili powder, a cinnamon stick, cloves, and fengugreek.
  • Basmati rice, for serving

Set your InstantPot to “Saute” and add a slug of ghee or oil. Poke holes in the eggs with a fork. Saute eggs in a mix of turmeric with a little salt. Remove eggs from pot.

Add sliced onions, ginger, and garlic or alternative spices if you are using them. Saute until softened, 3-5 minutes. If things get sticky, add a little water.

Return eggs to pot. Add a cup of water OR, if using, tomatoes. Add remaining spices. Cook on high pressure for 6 minutes.

Serve over rice.

 

Wintertime Adventures with Flat Stanley!

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We love to host Flat Stanley (or Flat other people, too!), so we were glad that a friend of ours, second grader S., recently sent him our way for a visit. We live in northeastern Utah. The state is the ancestral home of the Ute, Dine (Navajo), Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone nations. Today, about 60,000 indigenous people live in Utah, about half of them on reservations in the southern part of the state. Outside of the reservations, our county has some of the most Native American people.

Here are some highlights of our time together in the Beehive State.

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On the campus of Weber State University, home of the Wildcats. WSU has more than 27,111 students and just celebrated its 120th birthday while Flat Stanley was here.

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Purple and white are the colors of Weber State. Since Stanley went to college for a day, we thought he might like a Weber State Wildcats sweatshirt–and a cup of hot cocoa. He like our dog Sonny so much we thought he might enjoy a pet or two of his own, so we helped him adopt a puppy and a kitten.

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Enjoy chocolate-chip-peanut-butter-banana pancakes. I guess it makes sense that Flat Stanley’s favorite breakfast food would be something flat.

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Out to dinner for Indian. He was very polite and didn’t pick out all the paneer for himself.

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Stanley forgot his boots back in Maryland, so we made him a pair. On average, Utah gets 60 inches of snow per year at the capital, Salt Lake City, which is about 30 minutes away from us. That is about three times as much snow as Baltimore gets. But snowfall in Utah is very uneven. Our climate includes a wide range of ecosystems, including the Mojave Desert, the driest desert in north America, in the Southwest corner, and the high peaks of the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. Our house is at 4,300 feet above sea level. (When you go to Ocean City, Maryland, you are at sea level–so we are more than 4,000 feet higher than you!) But other parts of our town are much higher since our town is built into a mountain. That also means some places get a lot of snow. One of our area mountains had more than 25 feet of snow this year so far–and it will get more before winter is over!

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We took Stanley to Crystal Hot Springs in nearby Honeyville, Utah. These hot springs  have a higher mineral content than any hot springs in the world–9,000 pounds every 24 hours! 450 generations of indigenous people used the area for their winter camping grounds. Very close to here, the Golden Spike joined the eastern and western parts of the transcontinental railroad, joining one end of the US to the other by rail. Many Chinese immigrants helped build the railroad. They build wooden tubs in Honeyville to capture the hot water so they could soak in them after a long day of hard work. Later, after World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent wounded soldiers by bus to the hot springs so that they could relax in the water. We took Flat Stanley swimming there in the middle of a snowstorm! You can’t see it in the photo, but snowflakes were falling all around us. No matter what the temperature outside, though, in the water, it is always 120-134 degrees F in the hot springs. And just a few feet away, there is a cold spring that is always 65-75 degrees F. If you get to warm in the swimming pool fed by the hot springs, you can jump in the cold water pool–or jump out and roll around in the snow, then jump back in!

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Utah has “the greatest snow on Earth,” as our license plates say. (Get it? Like the greatest show on earth!). On cold and snowy nights, we like to settle down in front of the fireplace with a book. And when you are flat, you can be your own bookmark!

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Thanks for joining us, Flat Stanley! We’d love to see you again!

Seriously, if there is a Flat Stanley in your life, send him our way! We love to send postcards, too, so if you or a child you know is in need of one, just ask. 

 

Soup’s On: Straightforward Chili

We host a sometimes-annual chili cookoff that involves secret judges and prizes both silly and substantial as a fundraiser for the local food pantry. One benefit of hosting is that you get to try a lot of chili recipes (Lorna H.’s Floribbean Chili remains one of my favorites!) and find inspiration to tweak your own. We eat a lot of chili at our house in the winter. Here’s our favorite relatively straightforward (We won’t call it “traditional” because I have no desire to lose that fight with my Texan friends.) chili.

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Straightforward Chili

1-2 lbs ground beef

3 Tbs garlic powder or a head of garlic, chopped

3 Tbs onion powder or 2 onions chopped (We often use onion powder if we are serving kids who think they dislike onions but who won’t notice complain if there is onion flavor but not texture in a dish)

1-2 tsp cayenne powder

2-3 Tbs chili powder

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp oregano

6 oz. tomato paste (one small can)

12-16 oz can crushed or diced tomatoes, or whole tomatoes cut up

5-6 15-16 oz cans beans, unrinsed. We use a mix of what we have, but this typically includes dark and light kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans.

  1. In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef. If using chopped onions, add to the meat partway through the browning process; add raw garlic, if using, toward the end. Then, follow one of these two steps, depending on how ambitious you are:
  2. Dump the meat into a metal strainer set over a metal bow, then dip out a few spoonfuls of fat to return to the pot. Heat fat on medium-low, then add remaining spices and herbs, including onion powder and garlic powder, if using.
  3. Drain fat however you prefer and simply add the remaining spices and herbs, including onion and garlic powder, to meat.
  4. Add tomato paste and crushed or diced tomatoes. Cook over low while you open all those cans of beans. We unapologetically use canned beans. If we ever master dried beans, we’ll let you know.
  5. Add beans. If the consistency isn’t what you like, add water.
  6. Cook on low on stove, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or longer. Alternatively, cook in the oven on 250 or 300 or 350 (depending on whether you are making some baked mac and cheese or some cornbread or baked potatoes to go with it). This will burn, so don’t ignore it.

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We eat ours with cornbread, which is just some combination of a basic cornbread recipe plus either a little honey or green chilis or canned or frozen sweet corn or sour cream or creamed corn or half a cut-up bar of cream cheese, depending on what kind of leftovers we’re trying to get rid of and how deeply I want to horrify my Southern relatives.

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Not-a-Meal-Plan: Chopped, the Pantry Version

Hate meal planning? Us too. That’s why we skip it in favor of a not-a-meal-plan, which involves figuring out where you want to turn to find dinner (pantry, fridge, freezer). As long as these are well-stocked, you can make a meal. In this short blog series, we describe what we do when we look in each of those places. 

We also aim for a once-a-month pantry audit. Sometimes things end up in the pantry that just don’t make sense. (I said to buy “chilis,” but someone buys a can of beans in chili sauce. I convince myself I’m going to love lentils this time but bring them home and can’t persuade myself to actually cook them.) These inspire our Chopped nights. No, no one is allowed to make dinner out of stinky tofu, finger limes, smoked pork tails, and raspberry Toaster Strudels. Instead, a child works with a parent to make a meal out of what we have, working with flavor profiles we know that our family likes. Yes, this means a lot of variations of chili (because we have a lot of beans), grain bowls (Why did I buy millet?), and curry (because we almost always have coconut milk).

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For some reason, Chopped and The Amazing World of Gumball are our go-to choices for watching TV in hotels. Anyone else reserve food-related TV for travel?

 

Popcorn Time! Movie Theater Floor Snack Mix

Popcorn is the perfect snack because it’s an actual whole, unprocessed grain. And since you should make half your grains whole, the more popcorn you eat, the more non-whole grains you get to eat.

Okay, that part isn’t quite true. I mean, you can’t eat a pound of pasta just because you ate a pound of popcorn. And, anyway, popcorn is so filling that you wouldn’t want to. Scientifically, it’s perhaps the perfect snack. 

Today, Mr. Prickles shares with us his recipe for Movie Theater Floor Snack Mix, which has to be the most unhealthy way to eat popcorn but is a lot of fun to shop for and make.

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Hi, this is me, here, now, explaining how to make this popcorn.

Step 1: Use the power of radiation and science to microwave an 11.5 oz bag of white chocolate.

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Step 2: Throw a 17 to 20 oz bunch of candy into a bowl along with 5 oz of Fritos and 10 oz of mixed nuts.

Step 3: Throw the white chocolate onto the candy, violently.

Step 4: Mix it.

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step 5: Put it on 4 cups of popcorn.

Step 6: Wait 15 minutes.

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Step 6: Eat it, or give it to a pigeon, or an old friend trying to sell you mlms, or the CEO of Fritos. Just beware: anyone who eats it will become your best friend.

Not-a-Meal-Plan: COTR Night

Hate meal planning? Us too. That’s why we skip it in favor of a not-a-meal-plan, which involves figuring out where you want to turn to find dinner (pantry, fridge, freezer). As long as these are well-stocked, you can make a meal. In this short blog series, we describe what we do when we look in each of those places. 

Which night do you take the garbage to the curb? That’s what we call COTR Night (pronounced like Ry Cooder’s surname. We do try to refrain from saying “COTR Night” in front of company.) That’s the night we Clean Out The Refrigerator. This night anchors our week, because by this night, anything that isn’t looking a limp gets eaten that night. Meals that help you COTR are quiche and egg casseroles (for cheeses and vegetables on the edge), grain bowls or winter salads (for vegetables you can roast in fun spice mixes), and soups (for those vegetables, plus any small amounts of meat leftover from other meals).
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I’m Ry Cooder, and I approve this not-a-meal-plan. 

Not-a-Meal Plan: Whatever Soup

Hate meal planning? Us too. That’s why we skip it in favor of a not-a-meal-plan, which involves figuring out where you want to turn to find dinner (pantry, fridge, freezer). As long as these are well-stocked, you can make a meal. In this short blog series, we describe what we do when we look in each of those places. 

As we clean up leftovers each night, we put anything soup-worthy into a gallon freezer bag. If we have a large amount of something leftover (say, two entire ears of corn), they can go into their own bag, but, otherwise, celery, onions, carrots, peas, green beans, and okra, plus any leftover rosemary or basil or other fresh herbs go into a single freezer bag. When it gets about halfway full, these form the base of a vegetable or beef vegetable soup. Don’t add cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage etc.), which can be great in soup but make everything near them taste like they do.  And don’t freeze potatoes, which turn mealy in texture.

 

Foxhole Advice: Worries about Mom and Baby’s Health

Dear Family Foxhole,

I’ve been an only child for 12 years now but that will all end this summer when my mother has a baby. I’m excited for her because she and my stepdad have been wanting to have a child for a few years now but weren’t able to get pregnant. Now that my mom is pregnant, I’m worried that the baby will be sick or have some other health problem or that my mom will die during pregnancy or childbirth. I know that these aren’t realistic concerns in the modern day USA, but I’m still worried and now I feel guilty about being worried because I don’t want to make my mom worried.

Worried

Dear Worried,

Trust me, your mom is already thinking about how to make sure that she and your new sibling are healthy! She is eating healthy, taking prenatal vitamins, and seeing her doctor regularly to monitor her and the baby’s health.

But you are right to be concerned. Even with modern medicine, people get sick, and accidents happen that affect our bodies. I say this not to scare you but to affirm that it’s both common and reasonable to have some worries about pregnancy.

You might not get over your worries between now and the arrival of the baby, but you can minimize them. Some ideas:

Talk to your health teacher, tour the hospital, or interview a midwife (who delivers babies), doula (who assists in the delivery, focusing on the mother), or obstetric (baby-delivery) nurse. You probably have some school project that you could use as an excuse to do this.

Ask your mom and stepdad to sign you up for a babycare/babysitting/child first aid class. The Red Cross in many towns offers these classes, and if you take them, you can charge people more for your babysitting services in the future!

Spend some time with people who have disabilities and people who love people with disabilities. Often times our worry with pregnancy is that something will be “wrong” with the baby and the baby will be born with an unusual physical feature, like cleft palate or spina bifida. Even though some of these physical features make life more challenging, there is no “wrong” way to have a human body!

Honey

Honey

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Dear Worried,

I’ll be blunt: If you are worried about what would happen in the worst case scenario, ask your mother and stepdad what their plan would be in that case. It is not “bad luck” to think about how our lives would change if our loved ones died. In fact, your mom and stepdad have probably already thought about it and maybe just didn’t tell you. Ask them directly:

  • Who would you live with if your mother died?
  • Would your biological father take custody of you, or would you keep living with your stepdad?
  • If your biological father took custody, would you still be able to see your stepdad and his side of the family?
  • If the plan is that you would stay with your stepdad, has your mother done the paperwork to make sure that would happen?
  • Would you keep living in this house and going to the same school, or would your stepdad want to move you closer to other members of your family?
  • Would a grandparent or aunt or uncle come to live in your house to help take care of the baby? If your stepfather remarried, would you still get to live with him?
  • What kind of person would your mother want to your stepdad to remarry if she died?

Ask them if they have all this in writing (a will), who their lawyer is, where the will is located, and who is the executor (the person who makes sure it is being carried out). If they tell you that you are being nosy, tell them that you are just being responsible. Maybe find some horrible cases of child custody battles on the internet to prove that they need to be prepared.

Mr. Prickles

Mr. Prickles

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Dear Worried,

I like to drive my worries away with crafting. When you are focusing on something fun and positive, it’s harder to worry. Here are some fun ones:

Get the baby’s room ready! Paint the walls, the ceilings, the trim. Make a stencil or a stamper and go to town!

Make a baby quilt or crochet a baby blanket.

Give one of your favorite stuffed animals a makeover (wash, brush, fluff, stuff, and repair any holes) for the baby.

Once you know the name of the baby, make a collage of items for each letter. (If his name is “Tiger,” you’d make a collage of items starting with T, one starting with I, one starting with G, etc.) THEN cut each collage into the shape of that letter and paste it to a canvas. Hang it on the baby’s door.

Keep a diary of your own feelings that you can share with the baby one day.

Write letters to the baby, each with a different focus. (“Our family history,” “The town where you were born,” “What I think life will be like when you are 12”). Seal them in envelopes and write a future date on them when you think the baby should open them.

Make the pages of a baby book. Make a page where you can record his birthday, weight, and length. Make a page where you mom and stepdad can write down the story of his birth (when she went into labor, how long it took, etc.), Make pages where you will stick pictures of the baby’s first bath, first haircut, first tooth, etc.

Eek! All of these ideas make me so excited for you! Crafting for babies is so fun!

Lamb

Lamb

The Not-A-Meal Plan

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The Dutch oven, the workhorse of our kitchen.

I love to cook. Like, twice a week and on Sundays. The rest of the time, it’s mostly a way to remind myself of what life was like before children. Slower. Tidier. Cheaper.

Recognizing that maintaining my love of cooking requires me feel less hassled by the fact that this family must be fed every single day, we’ve moved to a not-a-meal-plan system.  Meal planning that requires me to make decisions about what we are going to eat a week in advance simply don’t work for us. Like most families, we’re busy and our schedule varies. Sometimes someone has an evening meeting. Some semesters, a parent is going one night a week teaching; in the summer, it might be two. Girl Scouts meets three times a month from 6-7, right over our usual dinner time. We want friends to join us at the last minute, or we forgot about the school’s spaghetti supper until the day of.

And my biggest complaint: meal planning is one more thing to plan.

So instead of a system that locks us into particular meals, we wanted a system that:

  1. Lets us mostly work with what we have, which is what is one sale, rather than telling us what to buy. See below for our list of things we always or almost always buy–the things that make up our pantry, fridge, and freezer staples.
  2. Lets us change our mind on any given night, so that we can eat leftovers, go out, order in, try out a new recipe they saw online that day, or eat a bowl of cereal if that’s what we want. To allow for the fact that we’re going to make some bad nutritional decisions sometimes, most meals have to have vegetables (or sometimes on quiche night a fruit salad), and most of them have to be mostly plant-based.
  3. Allows who cooks to change over the course of the week so that everyone over 4 feet tall can make at least some meals.
  4. Includes at least one healthy food that each person likes, so we can tell a child who is suddenly averse to tomatoes that he can eat his pasta sauceless and enjoy as many green beans as he likes.

The final rule for our family not-a-meal-plan is that we can drop any night we want (except COTR night, described in a forthcoming post, which insures that we aren’t wasting food). If it’s chili night and we want quiche, we can. The point is that if we get stuck not being able to make a decision  (which is often the hardest part), we have a not-a-meal-plan to help us.